Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons, and smoke and mirrors. The Angels owe their ability to stay in the thick of the AL Wild Card race to those three factors, and to a mediocre field of competitors. Because their starting pitching is hanging by a thread.
On Saturday, Andrew Heaney had to leave the game against the Mariners in the third inning with a shoulder injury. He lasted just 2 ⅓ innings, allowing two runs. In the process, Angels’ starters ERA ballooned to 6.56 over a span of 21 games. Even with Trout and Simmons thriving, Justin Upton added to the mix, and the bullpen coming through, it’s tough to stay in the race when a bad starting five becomes a quintet of punching bags.
Credit Parker Bridwell for putting out the fire. The 26-year-old rookie came through on Sunday, yielding just two runs in six innings en route to a 5-3 win. That victory prevented a three-game sweep in Seattle. It also continued a roller-coaster ride for Bridwell. In his previous eight starts leading into Sunday, he’d allowed one, four, one, one, four, two, seven, and six runs, making him one of the most volatile pitchers in the league—not a huge surprise for a pitcher with the seventh-lowest strikeout rate among all AL starters with as many innings pitched.
Winning with little starting pitching is still feasible, as the Royals of recent vintage proved. But the Angels are testing the limits of the theory. If Garrett Richards is going to return to his ace form of 2016 following months on the DL and an encouraging (if short) 3 ⅓-inning return last week, it had better happen fast.